Hello dear friends
I bought a nice one-cup tea plunger when I was shopping with my granddaughter Alice (12) last Saturday. At $5 I thought the price was great and as I love tea leaf tea, I thought I couldn’t go wrong. After I had paid, Alice said to me in a very worrying voice: “Grandma, do you realise what is written on the side of that plunger? If you knew, you might not want to keep it.”
Oh dear, this warranted a wee little look. Much to my shock, there on the side of my beautiful new tea plunger – in a cursive hand that was not clearly legible – was written:
“IT’S TEA TIME BITCHES”
What was this?! Firstly, how had I missed this folks? Secondly, did I care enough to want to take it back? Thirdly, what IS this with women calling one another BITCHES these days?
The reply I gave Alice did not convince her that it was okay, almost funny even. Can you blame her folks, when we tell our children that calling someone A BITCH is not nice?
Therefore, the researcher in me had to check out exactly what is going on here. It turns out that BITCH has an interesting history and this was noted by an American woman called Clare Bayley who wrote an essay on the history of the word BITCH. She says:
“Bitch is one of the most complicated insults in the English language. A bitch typically means a lewd, malicious, irritating woman (the comparison being to a dog in heat), but some women self-identify as bitches to indicate they are strong, assertive and independent.” (To read the whole essay: clarebayley.com/2011/06/bitch-a-history)
Now, I’m not going to give you all the ins and outs of the word BITCH as it is far too detailed for this little blog. Suffice it to say that bitch has a long history which appears to go back to the 17th Century when it was used in relationship to MEN not women. Interesting?
But the defining moment occurred in 1920 in an interesting way. The first serious rise in the usage of bitch began in 1920 thanks to the suffragettes when the amendment to the US constitution was ratified on August 18th 1920 and women received the right to vote.
“But as women became more public, so too did their critics. Now that women were appearing more and more on the American stage, the insult bitch began to slip slowly into popular discourse.”
Therefore, the popularity of bitch dipped slightly around the late 30s and early 40s, possibly due to an increase in respect for the women who played an important part in the war effort. After the war, use of the word came back into vogue and continued steadily until around 1965 when it suddenly came back into use.
Then in 1996 came the first publication of a magazine with the dubious title: Bitch Magazine, a periodical giving a “feminist response to pop culture.” One of the magazine’s founders, Andi Zeisler, explained in a 2006 interview that the name was chosen explicitly because they wished to reclaim the word for feminists! She said:
“When we chose the name, we were thinking, well, it would be great to reclaim the word “bitch” for strong, outspoken women, much the same way that “queer” has been reclaimed by the gay community. That was very much on our minds, the positive power of language reclamation.
Thanks to Zeisler, the word BITCH began to appear in all manner of places: bookshelves, clothes, food labels … and even on tea plungers like the one I bought! It seems to me that I have somehow missed this phenomena in popular culture. I was aware of it being ‘out there’ but I never felt that I was part of that particular scene And when you read what Zeisler was trying to achieve, you’ll understand why I do not identify with it. This is what she said:
“I intend to scream, shout, race the engine, call when I feel like it, throw tantrums in Bloomingdale’s if I feel like it and confess intimate details about my life to complete strangers. I intend to do what I want to do and be whom I want to be and answer only to myself: that is, quite simply, the bitch philosophy.”
Really? Does everyone feel the same way about all this? Or is this the ‘self-first-I-don’t-care-about-anyone-else philosophy? I don’t feel very good about it. Wouldn’t we be better off finding self-love quietly and standing up for ourselves in a non-aggressive manner than in using this so-called ‘bitch philosophy to make us feel better?’
Or is this the result for some (eg Zeisler) of too many years of being suppressed? I have seen it happen to those who have been repressed folks. They come out of being suppressed with all guns blazing!
As for me, I was brought up by a Lebanese mother whose sons were brought up to be ‘gods’ so I understand this lack of equality better than anyone. But, I am happy to tell you dear friends, that there is another way forward besides the ‘bitch philosophy! And I have navigated my way through it … bit by bit, inch by inch through the years … without (hopefully) becoming a bitch! It IS possible.
However, on a lighter note, I am also happy to laugh at the use of the word ‘bitch’ on everything including T-shirts and leave it at that. I am even happy to have a tea plunger engraved with the words: ‘IT’S TEA TIME BITCHES! ‘ without being offended. For me, it is a bit of comedy. But, I am not really happy to be associated with the ‘bitch philosophy’ that puts on tantrums and behaves inappropriately.
Time to let go of the ‘bitch philosophy’ and claim back our womanhood dear friends, as something to be proud of. Let’s face it, us women should hold our heads high with dignity as we deal with issues that pertain to womanhood alone: periods, pregnancy (or lack of pregnancy) giving birth and then ta da … the menopause. Us women are indeed unique people,
What do YOU think? Do you identify with the word BITCH? Have a read of Clare Bayley’s essay and give me your opinion. It’s a great topic and I have to say that I cannot give it justice in this little piece so forgive me for appearing a little flippant about the whole thing. clarebayley.com/2011/06/bitch-a-history)
I do agree however, that Zeisler has somehow managed to take the nastiness out of the word BITCH and made us women laugh at ourselves even though I cannot get as excited about it as she does.